Photo via Argentina Noticias

As if the death of Father Juan Viroche wasn’t shocking enough, there is even more confusion regarding his apparent suicide amid rumors he may have been romantically involved with two women — one of whom could be pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, the grief-stricken Tucumán village where he preached is convinced that he was murdered by drug traffickers, even though the autopsy determined it was a suicide.

“The investigation hasn’t ended yet. We’re still working on it, the only thing that we can confirm is that we consider it a suicide after the autopsy. Now, we need to continue pursuing evidence to confirm or rule out what may have led him to take his life,” said the prosecutor in charge of investigating the case, Diego López Ávila.

The Romantic Lead

Photo via TN
Photo via TN

In the aftermath of the news of his death, the police homicide division contacted a woman from the rural commune of Delfín Gallo, where Viroche preached, singled out by a local resident as someone who could be of interest to the investigation.

As it turns out, she was. She allegedly confessed to a romantic relationship with the priest until March 2016. According to her statement, she ended the relationship with Viroche on discovering that he was also involved with another woman.

The witness, who has remained anonymous, also mentioned that the family of the other woman had started to denounce the priest on social media — he allegedly broke off their relationship after finding out that she was pregnant with his child. The family was apparently pressuring him and he may have feared they would damage his reputation in the community.

Ávila confirmed that the investigation was taking that direction: “We have not ruled anything out and are probing into this lead. I cannot give more details because we have to preserve the witness’ [anonymity],” Ávila said, according to La Gaceta.

Confusion

Photo via Contexto Tucumán
Photo via Contexto Tucumán

Yesterday, as media outlets posited that Viroche had been the victim of a homicide as a direct result of his activism against drug trafficking, there were several things reported as facts that ended up being false. First, photos allegedly taken by a local resident who had “managed to get into the church,” including a pool of blood on the floor, were later declared to be fake or perhaps from a prior robbery. The blood and destruction of church property as described by the local outlet La Gaceta and cited by The Bubble were also allegedly exaggerated.

Second, there were also reports of violence and signs of torture on the body, which the autopsy has allegedly ruled out because “the body showed no signs of a confrontation.” Tucuman’s attorney general, Gustavo Gómez had said that Viroche had suffered violent contusions to his ribs prior to being hanged, which immediately led many to say it was homicide. However, the lawyer for the Tucumán Church, Facundo Maggio, questioned Gómez’s statements: “I don’t understand where he got that information from.  Aside from having no jurisdiction over the case, he wasn’t even in the province when he talked about the issue,” said Maggio.

Third, Gómez had also told the media that the tragedy could have been avoided had the curia heeded Viroche’s fears and moved him to another parish. However, at his funeral today, the Archbishop of Tucumán Alfredo Zecca said that it wasn’t true to say that they had abandoned Viroche:

“He came to see me on Wednesday September 28 telling me he wanted to leave because he felt threatened and I said yes, but [Viroche] wanted to stay on because he was in the middle of a novena and wanted to finish it. He presented his resignation on Friday and I immediately signed the decree naming a new priest,” explained Zecca.

Visibly irritated by questions on people’s anger about the church’s alleged negligence, Zecca went on to say that “People can be angry with me […] I can understand parishioners saying so because they’re upset […] But my conscience is clear. If they say I abandoned him, they’re lying.”

Disbelief

Photo via La Capital
Photo via La Capital

Local residents, and particularly members of Viroche’s congregation, remain convinced that the priest was murdered due to his constant denunciations of drug trafficking in the province. There have thus far been no links to drug trafficking in the investigation but a march was held in Viroche’s honor, demanding justice:

“We’re demanding justice for the death of Father Viroche,” Silvia Galván, a local resident, said. “We’re tired of the injustice around here [and] we don’t think he commited suicide, he was murdered [and] he was under threat.”

Viroche had led several marches protesting against drug trafficking and crime in different cities across the province: he continually denounced how gangs “corrupted” young people from low income families and dragged them into illegal activity. He had been continually harassed over the past year, with incidents including robbery in the parish and death threats.

In November 2015, Viroche held an open air mass in the rural commune of Delfín Gallo and directly tackled the issue, calling for “a town with no drugs or robberies”: this was allegedly a recurring theme in all of his sermons. In June, he accompanied rural communal workers to present charges. He was apparently a well loved member of the community.

“Those of us who know Father Juan Viroche know that the suicide hypothesis is impossible. Whoever did this will pay!”

“Nobody here in La Florida believes that Viroche committed suicide. He’s described as a man full of life and a fighter.”